Antioch – The Queen of the East
Thoughts from modern Antakya
Nineteen hundred years ago Antakya in Turkey was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire only surpassed by Rome in Italy and Alexandria in Egypt. Antioch, as it was called, had fora, it had impressive public buildings and temples and it had at least one hippodrome (depicted in the movie Ben Hur) and many public baths. Aqueducts supplied the city with water from the mountains around Daphne (now Harbiye) down south and on a big island in the middle of the river Orontes a palace was built for the Roman Emperor when he was visiting the city.
Nearly all of this has gone, destroyed by wars, fires, earthquakes, floods and general neglect. Modern Antakya has about 200.000 thousand inhabitants. There is a new city on the north-western side of the Orontes. On the eastern side in the old town the beautiful old buildings are left to decay. The street that used to be called the Colonnaded Street is still there. Two thousand years ago it was 27 metres wide with colonnades and shops on each side. Now it is about nine metres wide.
Antioch has also left an impression on peoples on peoples mind for other reasons. Two thousand years ago it was one of the important cities of the first Christians and later the theology of the so-called School of Antioch became famous. There are still Christians in Antioch living at peace with their Muslim and Jewish neighbours. Antakya is a model for the rest of the world of how people of various denominations can live together without strife. You have Sunni Muslims, Alewites, Baha’is, Catholics, Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Gregorian Armenians, Protestants, Jews and several other denominations. Still religious intolerance is seldom heard of.
Antakya has different sorts of problems, but it is still a place worth visiting and an interesting place to stay.